I was reading a post on Greg Rucka’s blog yesterday…
And you kind of have to scroll down quite a ways to find this part…
Wherein he mentions that in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, as far as the battle over Marion goes, Belloq is clearly the better man.
Now, it seems to me that this is a very large point. Definitely there are real ways in which Belloq is the better man, which are painfully apparent to the Raiders enthusiast. Well, but aren’t these very ways part of the reason we prefer Indy to Belloq? Indy certainly has flaws that Belloq doesn’t, but are those same flaws not in the end elevated, by being the very things that block him from allying himself with the Nazis?
However — and here’s my question — what are these flaws, precisely, and how does Indy come by them?
Even fifty years ago, this would’ve been the easiest question in the world to answer: Indy’s flaws are merely the reverse of Belloq’s. Belloq is successful, and Indy is not; Belloq can afford the sin of Pride, and Indy can’t. Literally can’t afford it: because he hasn’t got what it takes to pay for it. So he must settle for a sin far less satisfying, instead.
Yes, and don’t we all know that Han fired first on Greed? That egalitarian character, with so much dignity in potential, always in potential…but perhaps only because Greed doesn’t serve him very well, either. He never gets much good out of it; he’s not very good at it. He can’t move on from it — can’t even start with it. And in the end it isn’t really even a sin: because Greed, in the end, is not what he has. What he has is Lack. Always Lack.
Belloq doesn’t have Lack (and neither does Jabba — yes, I’m saying Harrison Ford was playing the same character both times). Read the right way: Belloq is the better man. No Lack. Better man. Ipso facto.
Some few of you may recall my old community-college essay on “The Man Who Forgot He Was A Man” (link on the Not Comics page, if you’re interested in reviewing the poor overburdened thing) — that distinctly American adventure-film trope involving incompleteness and Lack as semi-Lawrentian virtue. The holes left by missing bits of Self signalling honesty, toughness, and worth…and the filled-in Self of the mature individual seen as inadequate in comparison, effete, artificial…the property only of a) decadent villains, or b) laughable non-entities. So this is what the explanation of Indy’s virtue would’ve been, as little as fifty years ago: next to Belloq, Indy is rude, flawed, inarticulate, uncultured, American, a little stupid (as in “too dumb to quit when he’s beat”) and therefore good…Belloq is aristocratic Eurotrash whose success at everything makes him persuasive and enviable, and therefore bad. Belloq hobnobs with the powerful; Indy’s friends are poor little children without shoes. Laconic American saint vs. loquacious European princeling. Simple stuff. Very non-churchgoing Protestant.
Of course, Raiders was made a lot more recently than fifty years ago…
So it’s only an updating of that stuff, see? And not the stuff itself. These quasi-Lawrentian traditions of American film went down below the surface of things by the Fifties…I’d suggest they’d been gone out of American novels quite some little time before that…and maybe they even vanished entirely from movies that were at all well-made. Raiders came out about two decades later, after American film’s more artsy, introspective period, in which Steven Spielberg grew up holding rangefinders to his eye. So in Raiders, Indy doesn’t triumph over Belloq because well-dressed, well-mannered Europeans are all effete hypocrites…does he?
Or doesn’t he?
Forgive me, these aren’t very well thought-out noodlings, here. I’m kind of babbling, airily wondering, waiting for someone smarter to interrupt me…and by the time we get to the third installment of the Indiana Jones franchise, I think much is made plain that in the first movie largely functioned as subtext, so in a way what I’m asking is kind of a moot point. Wow, am I saying there was a lot of subtext in Raiders? These really aren’t well thought-out ideas, are they? Still, all things Raiders interest me, and Steven Spielberg was hardly born in the Thirties…in the Raiders novelization (a friend’s girlfriend once noticed this on my bookshelf and said with a laugh “Jesus, you have this too…” “Naturally I have it,” I said, drawing myself up all haughty-like. “Shit, what is it with boys,” she wondered aloud. “I’m sure I have no idea what you can be referring to,” I replied, flicking a speck of lint from the irreproachable Mechlin lace at my cuffs…welcome, Bully!) where was I, oh yes in the Raiders novelization, much is made of Marion finding Belloq absolutely magnetic — if Indy doesn’t show up soon, she’s not going to be able to resist him for long in that tent, you know? This (ahem) sequence is not mirrored in the film, of course, but Mr. Rucka’s musings on Raiders recalled it to my mind nevertheless…
So what am I asking?
Lowbrow and reactionary as it may be, Raiders is an exceptionally well-choreographed piece of cinema. It’s almost scary how the beats come just when they oughtta, and how everything looks just like it has to at every moment. I’d see it again right this minute, if it were on. I never tire of looking at it. Never. For what it is (for just what it is, and I wouldn’t have it any other way), it’s bloody perfect.
So, lowbrow or not, is there anything in it to be called accident?
I would be very surprised if there was.
What are Indy’s faults, and how does he come by them? What makes Belloq the better man/not the better man? As I said, I’m just horsing around, here. But I would be interested to hear any brilliant thoughts that might occur to anybody. My own brilliant thoughts I can get cheap as borscht (egg beaten into it and all), but I don’t read too much about Raiders online, and I’d like to.
David Golding once said, when I brought up Doctor Who: “ah, now this is my fandom.” I can’t quite claim this same thing in total honesty about Raiders; I love Seventies Marvel comics far too much for that. But is there anyone of my approximate vintage who doesn’t put that first Indiana Jones right up there with Spider-Man as an identity-shaper? David agrees, I’m sure.
Well anyway — this was fun.